The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.
Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas
The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!
Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus
The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!
Tulips & more tulips
I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!
Thompson & Morgan survey reveals nation’s habits when it comes to summer hanging baskets
Love them or loathe them, nothing sets up the garden for summer like a vibrant display of hanging baskets. As the UK’s leading mail order supplier of seasonal basket plants, Thompson & Morgan has surveyed the nation’s gardeners to see how they use them to best effect in their garden, with some interesting findings.
• Red is the nation’s favourite basket flower colour
• Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ named best basket plant
• Begonias, fuchsias and petunias hold the top slots but….
• 60% of gardeners are planning to try something new in their summer baskets this year
• Hanging basket numbers per garden ranged from 1 to 28, but the average is 5.4 per plot
• 15% of gardening households don’t include hanging baskets in their summer displays
Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ & Begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’
Hanging baskets are all about showing off and adding colour to the garden scene, so Thompson & Morgan was keen to identify the nation’s favourite floral basket shades. When gardeners were invited to take the Thompson & Morgan online survey this spring, the top three flower colours were red (24%), purple (22%) and pink (17%). Just 5% prefer white flowers, and while only 10% chose yellow and 9% orange, Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ received the most mentions as a favourite hanging basket plant, with trailing begonias, petunias and fuchsias in general filling the top slots.
Petunia ‘Night Sky’ & Begonia ‘Illumination Mixed’
The survey findings reveal that the majority of basket gardeners use just two or three flower colours in their basket displays (38%), with only 9% sticking to one colour. 26% go all out with a riot of mixed colour in their baskets, while 27% of respondents said they employ a combination of single colours, duos, trios and mixes across their various baskets.
Hanging baskets seem to be the place for gardeners to experiment with new plants, with over 60% looking to try something different in their displays this summer. Thompson & Morgan sales analysis shows that the new edible Fuchsia Berry and the unusually speckled Petunia ‘Night Sky’ are stand out ‘experimental’ basket options for customers this season.
Petunia ‘Frills & Spills™ Mixed’ & Fuchsia ‘Trailing Mixed’
Tastes in basket style are fast changing too, with just 13 per cent opting for traditional moss-lined wire baskets. Coir matting is now the preferred option for lining older style baskets, but 45% of respondents said they had no need for basket liners as they now use pre-lined wicker baskets or plastic Easy Fill Baskets that need no lining at all. These were also chosen for their durability and ease of planting and upkeep through the season.
Only 36% of basket gardeners have tried fruit or vegetables in their hanging displays, despite many edible plants being suitable for baskets. For those that do grow their own this way, strawberries, tomatoes and mixed herbs were the most common planting option, but the new edible Fuchsia Berry and basket Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’ look set to shake things up.
Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’
Gardeners are savvy about the benefits of regular deadheading of basket plants to promote more flowers and extend the life of their baskets – Just 1% admitted to never deadheading, saying life is too short. But 31% dead head their basket plants on a weekly basis, and 29 % do it daily. 23% deadhead twice a week, leaving 15 percent to do it “when remembered”.
Thompson & Morgan’s survey also threw up some interesting findings when it comes to the nation’s use of winter and spring hanging baskets, to be revealed soon.
With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.
Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.
Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.
The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!
Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators
The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.
Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.
Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’
Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .
I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.
3 simple tips for bigger sweet peas
Left to their own devices sweet pea plants will work their way up their supports, going on to produce masses of colour and scent. However, with a few simple training tricks you can turn an every-day display into a real show-stopper!
My tips here will encourage the fastest growth and the biggest blooms on the longest stems. You can see the difference my training tricks bring about in the photo below.
Training difference in sweet peas.
Sweet Pea ‘Turquoise Lagoon’ in the left hand pot has been left to its own devices, while Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ on the right has received some regular attention from me – and what a difference it makes. When I get home this evening I’ll have to add the next tier to the Tower Pot frame, it will be another couple of weeks before I have to do that for ‘Turquoise Lagoon’.
If you want the same results, simply carry out my three easy maintenance tips:
Remove side shoots: Check plants every few days for side shoot development. These divert energy away from the main stem, which delays flowering and reduces eventual flower size. Use snips or your thumb and forefinger to pinch out shoot growth as close to the main stem as possible.
Remove tendrils: Sweet pea plants put a lot of energy into producing tendrils and latching on to available supports. Divert that energy back into the main stem by snipping off tendrils before they latch on to a support.
Tie in: With no tendrils to hold up stems you’ll have to provide an alternative. I use sweet pea rings to keep my stems in place. They are quick and easy to put around both stems and supports, with plenty of room left between them. Therefore, avoiding any stem damage, and the rings can be used again and again. It is so much easier to work with than fiddly twine or raffia.
Sweet pea rings
Shrubs are the stalwarts of the border- they last for years and years, fill gaps and offer decorative foliage AND flowering! And, what better place to start than Hydrangeas– one of the most versatile shrubs you can find, and I’m going to show how comprehensive the range is too!
- Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’
This Hydrangea gives a colour explosion in the garden right from the word go! The foliage is long, elegant and the same colour as your favourite chocolate bar! This foliage changes with every few weeks that passes; from chocolate-brown to deep green, and then it surprises you by transforming to the most delectable amber and golden shades! ‘Hot Chocolate’ is a robust hydrangea which really fills the borders, and even performs in poor soils!
Hydrangea ‘Hot Chocolate’ and Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer – Bloomstruck’
- Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’
If you really want maximum flower power from your Hydrangea shrubs, then ‘Endless Summer’ is a real breakthrough! Usually, a Hydrangea macrophylla will only flower on old wood, which means they set their flower buds for flowering in the previous summer. ‘Endless Summer’ not only does this, but it ALSO flowers on new wood, so you get a double whammy! Remember this type of Hydrangea (macrophylla) also gives different coloured blooms on different soils; expect blue on acid and pink on alkaline!
- Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’
This type of Hydrangea is a bit more woody than most, but with that comes extra hardiness, resilience and an easier pruning method! Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ is short, compact and makes a rounded, neat specimen for the border or pretty patio pots. The snowball flowerheads almost cover the plants throughout the summer, and gently turn to bubblegum pink as the season progresses!
Hydrangea ‘Bobo’ and Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’
- Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’
Undoubtedly the star of the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014, ‘Miss Saori’ was the winner of Plant of the Year, thanks to its crystallized-effect, two-tone flowers, which look like mini tiaras! A strong-growing plant, where the flower colour is less affected by different soil types too, you know you’ll be enjoying the colour you were expecting!
- Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’
This Hydrangea macrophylla has a distinctive appearance; with mophead blooms where each floret is curled like a piece of popcorn! An easy to grow shrub for sun or shade, great for small gardens or large patio containers! Enjoy pink blooms on alkaline, blue blooms on acid!
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer – Blushing Bride’ and Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’
With the nation’s apparent obsession with gyms, healthy eating and trying to lose weight, have you considered just how much exercise that you can do carrying out the simplest of garden tasks. We all ache after a long session of hoeing, digging or weeding and that’s probably because we’ve used muscles that we don’t normally and, providing we’ve been sensible, and safe, then it has probably done us some good!
With just a few simple garden tools you can burn off the calories, tone up your body and at the same time, have a well tended, beautiful garden, be it flowers or vegetables. Here are a few ideas to get you started and all at a fraction of the price of a gym subscription!
Hand trowels and forks will tone up your triceps and biceps too when you are using these for planting and weeding your beds and borders.
Using Secateurs, Grass Shears and Pruning Saws is the best exercise you’ll get for strengthening your forearms, wear gloves though – no point pruning yourself too!
If you want to improve your chest muscles (pectorals and lats) then trim hedges and shrubs with a pair of shears and clip your lawn edges with edging shears too, although don’t take on too much at once as you will soon lose interest and won’t want to finish the job!
You can’t beat using Loppers in the garden for those tougher pruning jobs and it’s a great way of working out your biceps, although don’t be tempted to use them to cut thicker branches than they can handle, you won’t get a clean cut and you might well break them – use a pruning saw instead.
If you want to improve your legs then simply dig! Using a garden fork or spade to dig over larger areas, be it a vegetable plot or a large flower bed, will give you lots of exercise and will burn off loads of calories too. If you haven’t got a huge plot to dig over then try an edging blade to keep your lawn in shape.
Lastly, and by no means least, your back, the bit that holds everything in place, be careful with it, you can’t get a new one (yet!). We all know to lift heavy things with a straight back and bent knees etc but it is so easy to quickly bend over, grab something – and then hurt yourself! For more gentle working, use a rake on beds, or a lawn rake to pull out moss from your lawn or just a leaf rake to clear up mess in your garden.
Of course you can combine things when you use some tools, hoeing will use your back and arms, wheeling a barrow will work out your back and legs, trying to stretch whilst you are working will also help with flexibility and importantly, start slowly each time, allow your muscles to warm up before you tackle the bigger jobs. You wouldn’t leap into a heavy gym session without first warming up and you shouldn’t rush out into the garden for a hard day’s graft without warming up to it either. Maybe walk around the garden first and work out your plan of action – preferably with a cup of tea, shrug your shoulders a few times in a circular motion to loosen yourself up a bit – put the tea down first, and then start with the easier jobs first. Don’t try to do everything at once either, working a bit more the next day will help to loosen up those aching muscles rather than overdoing it. After all, “Loam wasn’t built in a day”!
Just to give you a rough idea of what working in the garden will help you achieve, below is a list of approximate calories per hour burned whilst performing some simple garden jobs, these are only rough figures that I’ve gleaned from the internet and will vary from to person:
Average calories burned per hour – based on a 10 stone person
Carrying heavy loads 490
Chopping logs quickly 1070
Collecting grass or leaves 250
Mowing lawn with a push-along mower 280
Mowing lawn with a ride-on mower 150
Planting seedlings/shrubs 250
Raking lawn 250
Pruning shrubs 280
Above all else, remember that your garden is also to be enjoyed, it’s all very well spending loads of time on a gardening/exercising regime, but you’ve grown all your beautiful flowers for a reason – so take time to relax and enjoy it too!